And with this, our final installement of reviews for the 20th Toronto Jewish Film Festival. We hope you have enjoyed Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV of our coverage where we review 13 of the films playing throughout the run of the festival. The movies have been fun to watch with some real gems in the pack. There are still some free screenings being mounted by the festival this week, so be sure to check them out.
“Deaf Jam” is a wondrous documentary about deaf teens in a New York City school who teach us how American Sign Language (ASL) poetry works. Whereas a hearing audience will listen to a scattering of words from a slam poet, “spoken word” for the hearing impaired incorporates the entire body and words are presented as cinematic images with signs meant for wide or closeup shots and techniques like dissolves. The key in ASL poetry is to express one’s inner voice through physical expression.
We meet several teens, but then the movie zeroes in on Aneta Brodski, a sassy and whipsmart 17 yr-old Israeli immigrant who lives in the Queens section of New York and tells it like it is. At times we’re convinced that she’s just shouted something at us, her animated face and gifts for communication working so clear and direct and honest that we are immediately hooked on her like a drug. Her indignation is palpable. In her slam poems, she wonders about the limitations of a future for herself out there in the lonely, vast, hearing world. “How many deaf people do we know who work menial jobs?”, she asks rhetorically.
She wants to go to college, but there aren’t any scholarships for immigrants. Her entire essence is distilled in her mesmerizing slam pieces detailing her story and how conflicted she feels about life, about being deaf, about hope and the future. Not once do her performances ever ask us for pity. Instead, she shows more resolute colors than that, painting with a broad brush and evoking frustration and indignation more maturely than most hearing adults can muster.
Eventually, Aneta is introduced to Tahani, a hearing slam poet and immigrant from Palestine. They click immediately and get to work on a sort-of duet that will showcase both of their talents together.
“Deaf Jam” gets inside the world of the deaf in such an absorbing, compelling way. At first it takes a little while to keep up. We watch slam poetry coaches teaching the teens, and we’re about as lost as they are until they start applying their techniques and blending it with their creative talents for storytelling. By the 20-minute mark we find ourselves captivated by how we’ve just learned how this works, and now we’re going with it just as Aneta does.
What an exhilarating, life-affirming movie this is.
Torn Canadian Premiere Biography
MAY 10 – 1:00PM Hot Docs Bloor Cinema buy tickets
“So now he’s a man that’s a living conflict”, explains a rabbi.
He is speaking of polish priest Father Romuald Waszkinel, who learned as an adult that his real name was Jacob Waszkinel and that in order to save his life, his mother gave him to a Catholic family in Poland, before eventually herself perishing in the Holocaust. Now, in the twilight of his life, he seeks citizenship to Israel and to covert to Judaism while maintaining his beloved Catholic upbringing at the very same time.
Waszkinel seeks to live on a kibbutz, but its rabbi won’t allow him to practice Catholic ceremonies. Israeli as well as Jewish law won’t allow a Jewish person who has switched faiths to gain citizenship.
It’s a most peculiar situation involving this man, yet as a character in his own life story brought to us by director Ronit Kertsner, he is ironically presented as a man who appears at peace with himself. He’s sort of cheerfully implacable. The conflict is something put on him, but we’re not so sure it is one that truly conflicts him as much as it inconveniences his own sense for what is right.
I love movies like this. First, because you just can’t write stuff this good, and second, because we’re introduced by one of the more unforgettable people we’ve met at the movies with a totally unique life experience. A man who grew to find solace in the Catholic Church and its values, but who then saw fit to explore his original roots and who simply wishes to, as the old folk song goes, “get himself back to the garden”.
There are numerous generic war films in the Holocaust pantheon, some of them great and some of them not so much, but every once in awhile we’re treated to a unique human drama emanating from that time period that goes beyond action cliches into the lives of real individuals who were affected in their own unique ways, and such is the case in the highly absorbing doc “Torn“, featuring Father Romuald Waszkinel, a man not nearly as conflicted as perhaps the lawmakers and rule-keepers are.